I almost tried to call the old man today to share a couple of recent events and then I remembered he won’t pick up and sat in the car staring out the window.
Two weeks away from what would have been his 75th birthday I looked out a blue Texas sky and remembered a moment from the past.
A time when he overheard me talking on the phone to a girl and made a crack about it. I turned around and smiled at him.
“Are they dumb enough to fall for that?”
“Are you really going to put down your son this way. Aren’t you supposed to say that only the dumb ones would let me go?”
He laughed and said to remember I have sisters and that I should be a gentleman. I nodded my head and he said to be smart, “don’t get anyone pregnant before your ready. It’s a life sentence.”
“A life sentence? Really.”
“It is among the greatest things you can experience, but it is better if you are with the right person.”
The Greatest Kiss You Never Had
Scroll back to the Summer of ’88 and a trip to Costco.
It is just dad and I grabbing some essentials. I am about to head off to be a camp counselor so I grab some necessities.
Dad looks at the box of condoms and looks at me. I see him trying to figure out what to say.
He opts for “do you really think you are going to need that many?”
I smile and say I probably should get two or three boxes. He tells me he doesn’t appreciate my trying to get him to pay for him not to be a grandfather and mutters something under his breath.
Some years later I’ll tell him I heard that a smart Virgo never argues with a Taurus. He’ll say that sounds like a line and I’ll tell him the line is something more like this.
“This could be the greatest kiss you never had.”
Dad says he hopes I never say something so dumb to girls both now, in the past and the future. I can’t decide if the glare I receive has as much weight behind it as he tries to sell.
“Ya know dad there is this Barry Manilow song called Weekend in New England that goes along with that. Add the Whitman quote and you can make her really happy as long as she knows you’re sincere.”
Dad looks at me and shakes his head. Have I crossed a line or stumped him?
A thousand years later when it is just him and in the rehab facility and we both are hoping to see December roll around I talk with him about all sorts of stuff.
“Ya know dad there supposed to be some really good parties around September. I shouldn’t say this, but it kind of bothers me that I might miss out.
When I was a kid I thought adults knew all the answers. Somebody lied to me.”
Dad laughed and congratulated me on figuring out that most people and parents are winging it.
When I went to pick up the phone to call him I was going to tell him about the tests the doc ordered for me at my physical.
I was going to tell him how I feel like I am living two different lives because I am lifting almost as much as I ever have.
The muscle is coming back in a hurry and yet there are all sorts of other little issues.
“Dad, they want to shove a camera where the son doesn’t shine. It would be a hell of a joke if I didn’t do the prep before hand. They’d shove that camera up there and say it is proof I am full of it.”
He might have laughed or said it is not a big deal and told me how I’ll have a great nap, who knows.
The doc said he doesn’t have a reason to be concerned yet but it is good to run these tests to confirm.
I looked at the doc and said the docs said my grandpa should have died 10 years before he did and that the docs said my dad should have died at least a dozen times before I did.
“I am not worried. Death knows not to come looking for Wilner men without bringing along a hundred other friends and relatives. I’ll break his bony ass in half.”
How Do You Write?
They ask how do you write and follow up with a dozen other questions but the main one is how do you make people feel something.
“You have to have your heart destroyed once or twice. You have to be broken and to have figured out how to rebuild yourself. You have to be brave enough to say what you think. Tell those you love that you love them and those that you hate that you seriously dislike them.
You have to risk losing relationships and gaining others. You have to be ready to be broken again.
You have to write about joy and laughter in a way that others can appreciate and laugh at.
And you have to understand I know nothing about writing. I just throw shit on a page and hope someone understands it.”
The response isn’t pretty. They don’t understand why I contradict myself and why I don’t have more confidence in my work.
I tell them people are impossibly illogical and there is no telling what works and doesn’t. If I blog about how to hardboil eggs it might get a million pageviews and if I write about losing my father it might get seven.
“I have gotten paid for my writing so I know I have done something right once or twice, but hell if I know if it is as good as I hope to one day be. Sometimes I think it is great and sometimes crap.
I just keeping coming back with more because it is the only way I know to be. But I still try to be like Neruda.”
I Don’t Have 30 Years
If dad had been available today I would have told him about the conversation with the 27-year-old who told me they figure they have at least 25-30 years to figure out what they want to do career wise.
I would have said I don’t have 30 years to figure it out and I certainly don’t want to put another 20 in unless I choose to do so.
He would have said that’s why I moved to Texas so that I don’t necessarily have to put in 30 years and I would have said “you’re damn right but the promotion didn’t hurt either.”
During my first July trip to LA this Summer he looked at me and said I looked really tired.
I nodded my head and he said it would get better but that it might take until I was in my late 50s.
“Your kids will still need you but by then you’ll probably be beyond college so it should take some pressure off.”
“I have a few friends in second marriages and a couple in first who are just starting this whole ride. It is kind of strange to think that I’ll probably be finished with all this craziness a decade before them.”
He nodded and smiled.
Almost two months later I sit at my dining room table listening to music while I write this wondering how the hell I got to this place.
I definitely don’t want to have to work for another 30 years. I can probably control that but there is nothing to control about dad being gone. Won’t matter if I have five years or fifty, I have to figure out this part on my own.
Not like I didn’t plan on it, but I liked the idea of being able to ask a few questions if I wanted to.